Tahira Karanjawala, namit saxena
Tahira Karanjawala, namit saxena

[Interview] Meet Tahira Karanjawala and Namit Saxena, toppers of the 2019 AoR Exam

Bar & Bench

The results of the Advocate-on-Record (AoR) Examination, 2019 released earlier this week saw Tahira Karanjawala and Namit Saxena securing the top two ranks.

Tahira Karanjawala is an alumnus of Amity Law School. In April last year, she was promoted as Principal Associate at Karanjawala & Co.

Namit Saxena is an alumnus of the Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University. He has served as an Associate Advocate to former Solicitor General of India Ranjit Kumar.

In this interview with Bar & Bench, the toppers reveal why they chose to write the AoR exam, how they went about preparing for it, how handwriting improvement may have played a part in their result, and more.

When did you decide to write the AoR exam?

Tahira Karanjawala: Although I have been training under an Advocate on Record (Nandini Gore, Senior Partner at Karanjawala & Co.) for the last few years and have been clear for a while that I would take the AoR examination at some point, I seriously decided to take it sometime in late February or early March of last year.

Namit Saxena: I decided to write the exam somewhere in 2017. It was then that I had started receiving regular briefs for the Supreme Court. I was eligible for the exam in 2019.

How did you go about preparing for the exam?

Tahira Karanjawala: I started going through the material prescribed in late March or early April of last year. I had started with leading cases, which I personally found the most challenging of all the subjects (but also the most interesting) and made notes as I went along. I started the other subjects, for which there are textbooks prescribed, slightly later.

Closer to the examination, for the Drafting paper, I attempted a couple of the drafts which had been tested in the papers of some of the previous years. This helped me assess my time management and somewhat work on my handwriting (which is really nothing to boast about!) I also attended the classes held by various Senior Advocates during the summer break.

Namit Saxena: I undertook the one-year mandatory AoR training from Arun Kumar Sinha. I took notes and guidance from Aviral Saxena, who had cleared the exam in 2018. He was extremely helpful and laid the basic layout to study.

I started studying somewhere in April 2019. This involved taking the copies of SCR headnotes for leading cases, notes on Ethics, Handbook of Procedure etc. Then, effective studying began. I was told by peers to work on handwriting, and perhaps that really helped me in scoring.

How difficult was the exam last year?

Tahira Karanjawala: I think there was a general consensus that last year, the Drafting paper was more difficult compared to the other three papers.

Namit Saxena: I think the question papers of 2018 in general were more difficult than in 2019.

What is the format of the paper?

Tahira Karanjawala: The examination has four papers held on four consecutive days: Drafting, Legal Ethics, Practice and Procedure and Leading Cases.

The Drafting paper involves preparing four drafts. This is challenging because most of us are not used to writing out drafts, which not only becomes quite time consuming but also doesn’t allow you to freely correct your draft, which typing or dictation allows. So it’s important to have clarity on the broad points that you want to cover in the draft before you start writing.

The papers on Practice and Procedure and Legal Ethics involve a mixture of compulsory and optional questions geared towards testing the practical knowledge you’ve probably acquired during the course of your practice.

The paper on Leading Cases of last year involved attempting five out of eight questions, each question targeted at testing your knowledge of one or two landmark cases. In each of the papers, it is important to manage your time well so as to complete the whole paper.

Namit Saxena: There are four papers – Practice & Procedure, Drafting, Leading Cases and Professional ethics. All are subjective in nature. Each paper carries 100 marks and one needs to obtain minimum 50 marks in each paper and 240 marks in total. The format of the paper depends on the one who sets it. The Supreme Court Rules don’t provide a rigid format.

How do you feel now that you’ve emerged a topper?

Tahira Karanjawala: To be honest, the news came as quite a surprise to me, but naturally, I’m extremely happy about it. The results have brought some much needed cheer in what has otherwise been a dismal month for everyone due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Namit Saxena: It definitely feels good to have achieved this. But I don’t think it makes much difference in practice as such and all colleagues who have cleared the exam are at an equal footing. They all must have put in hard work to clear the exam and few marks up and down don’t make any difference. But I am overwhelmed at the number of friends and acquaintances who have called/messaged me since Monday. Many thanks to everyone.

Any advice for future exam takers?

Tahira Karanjawala: I think the biggest challenge for most is to study for the AoR examination alongside with managing your practice. So I would suggest trying to start slightly in advance, at least by March or April, so that you can slowly start going through the material prior to the beginning of the summer break. It’s also important to attend the classes held by various Senior Advocates during the summer break as they give insight into the format of the papers and the areas on which to focus.

Namit Saxena: Study Supreme Court Rules very thoroughly for the Practice & Procedure paper. Update yourself with notable and latest cases for the Leading Cases paper. Do good socio-legal background research for the cases to gain added advantage. For eg. – for Selvi v. State of Karnataka, one should read about Dr. Narco. For cases on reservation, parallel political developments in the country give a better understanding on the subject.

Use good and clear language to attract the examiner. For the Drafting paper, use good charming language and follow the set formats. For all papers, one must write in legible handwriting. Cover the questions which carry more marks first, so that if one is not able to complete the paper, she loses the questions which carry less marks.

How does becoming an AoR change a lawyer's career?

Tahira Karanjawala: Becoming an AOoR allows younger advocates to be able to establish an independent practice in the Supreme Court, which is otherwise difficult. Lawyers practicing in various High Courts often reach out to you to handle Special Leave Petitions arising out of the matters they are handling in the High Courts.

Personally, I presently am, and intend to b, attached to Karanjawala & Co, a litigation firm with a reputed Supreme Court practice, and I hope that qualifying as an AoR will help both my own professional growth and that of the firm.

Namit Saxena: It makes filing of petitions in the Supreme Court much easier. If one wishes to pursue a career before the Supreme Court, being an AOR is an added advantage.

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